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Cubs, Sosa nearing deal

It looks like Sammy Sosa's contract extension is all but complete. Only nobody's willing to talk about it.

The Associated Press reported Sosa and the Cubs have reached a deal of up to four years worth about $72-million.

The deal is to be finalized today and announced at a news conference at the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

The extension has been expected since Sosa arrived at spring training Feb. 26. His agents and Cubs president and general manager Andy MacPhail said they were optimistic they could work something out, and hoped it could get done before opening day.

Sosa seemed to sense something was coming, too. Moody and sullen last summer when he was the subject of trade talks, he has been happier this spring.

Sosa, who has hit 179 homers in the past three years, is in the last year of a $42.5-million, four-year deal.

"He has been great this spring. He probably senses that something's on the horizon," manager Don Baylor said this week. "And it's not a trade or free agency."

There were subtle signs that today could be the day, such as reporters being told to be available during the day, even though the game is at night.

Even Sosa has been unusually quiet the past few days _ except for the leadoff homer in the second inning Wednesday in the Cubs' 2-0 victory against the Diamondbacks in a split-squad game. That gave him four for the spring.

ASTROS: Third baseman Bill Spiers is scheduled to return to Houston today so doctors can examine his sore lower back.

Spiers returned from spring training in Kissimmee earlier this month to get a cortisone shot in his lower back. He has taken a shot in each of the past four years during spring training to control chronic back pain.

Spiers, who hit .301 with three home runs and 43 RBI last season, had minor arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 3 because of a bone spur in his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Spokesman Todd Fedewa said medical director Dr. David Lintener will examine Spiers.

DODGERS: Gary Sheffield hit his first homer of the spring. Sheffield, who withdrew his trade demand last week, entered the game with a .118 average in the Grapefruit League. The six-time All-Star outfielder homered in the sixth inning off minor-league pitcher Geoff Goetz, from Tampa Jesuit.

MARLINS: The team's new ballpark will be built downtown by the Miami River _ if the team can win approval of its financing plan from the Florida Legislature.

The Miami commission approved the site 4-1 after the Marlins' first choice _ park land along Biscayne Bay _ was eliminated from consideration because of opposition by environmentalists and other groups.

METS: Catcher Mike Piazza is close to returning from a bone bruise in a knee.

"He did all of his work today and did all of his agility running," manager Bobby Valentine said. "If he doesn't feel it at all tomorrow, he may play the next day."

Also, Tsuyoshi Shinjo slightly sprained his left ankle while making a throw during Thursday's game. He is day-to-day. He went 1-for-2 and raised his spring average to .385.

PADRES: Tony Gwynn hit his first home run since knee surgery as the team lost to Seattle.

Gwynn, who turns 41 on May 9, connected for a two-run homer in the fifth off Rob Ramsay to give the Padres a 3-2 lead. Gwynn went 2-for-3, also getting a run-scoring single in the first off Aaron Sele.

Gwynn missed most of last season after surgery on his left knee on June 27. Doctors smoothed three bones, removed loose cartilage and made microfractures designed to spur new cartilage growth and provide greater cushion.

PIRATES: Manager Lloyd McClendon said the pitching staff would be in distress if 38-year-old Terry Mulholland started more than five games.

Trouble may have arrived.

With starters Francisco Cordova and Jason Schmidt hurting and unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, McClendon said Mulholland has moved into the rotation _ at least for now.

"He was the obvious choice," McClendon said.

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